FOR high-flying solicitor Cat MacLean, the news she had cancer came as a huge shock.
The 49-year-old had found a lump in her breast in October 2013 but admitted she wasn’t too worried when she went to visit her GP for a check-up.
Unfortunately it turned out to be a lot more serious than she thought, with the mum-of-three learning just days later she was in fact suffering from an aggressive form of breast cancer.
To make matters worse, it was initially feared that the cancer had spread – and might even be terminal – after a scan revealed what appeared to be suspect lesions on her liver.
This turned out to be a false alarm, but Cat, who works for Edinburgh law firm MBM Commercial, was still faced with the prospect of months of gruelling treatment to battle the disease.
“I was thinking I’m terminally ill, I’m dying and have three children – it was just horrific,” she said. “Then to only have breast cancer seemed almost like a big present because I’d faced the prospect of dying from metastatic cancer.”
It was during the anxious wait between diagnosis and the start of chemotherapy that Cat first came into contact with the Maggie’s team.
She said: “We used Maggie’s quite a lot from the start.
“I spoke to one of the counsellors and I liked it – I liked that you could just come in and sit at the kitchen table.
“Then I met two girls who were slightly younger than me with breast cancer and we bonded.
“It was very odd – it was like a weird version of antenatal classes. We began meeting up every couple of weeks and that was a massive lifeline because there’s that sharing of knowledge and information.”
Chemotherapy and surgery followed and Cat eventually finished her treatment in 2014.
Since then she has helped bring in thousands for the charity – and now Cat has given her support to the Evening News-backed Buy A Brick For Maggie’s campaign.
Readers have been called on to help fund a much-needed extension to Maggie’s Edinburgh centre by donating whatever cash they can spare – even small amounts are welcome as they all add to the total.
And according to Cat, who lives just a stone’s throw from Blackford Hill, it’s crucial that the charity can continue its work to support those battling cancer.
She said: “We owe Maggie’s this massive debt of gratitude because it made what could have been a really bad experience fine, and at times quite positive.
“The girls I met we are still incredibly close and we still meet up regularly – they are very much part of my life now.
“There are all sorts of ways that Maggie’s has enriched my life both during the cancer and afterwards.”
For Cat, who is mum to Annie, 21, George, 18, and Evie, 11, the charity was also pivotal in helping her return to the workplace.
The transition back to the office was made all the more difficult by the fact Cat was still going through radiotherapy at the time.
However, it was the practical support from her counsellor that helped make the process – which Cat admitted she found “incredibly difficult” – feel much more manageable.
For Cat, it is this kind of practical support which really sets Maggie’s apart.
She said: “The NHS do a fantastic job of treating people and I’m immensely grateful.
“But the NHS don’t treat the person, they treat the disease and they do that very well.
“Maggie’s treats the whole person and look at all sorts of other things like diet, nutrition, make-up – really practical things.
“There’s such a range of other things that get affected when you’re ill that the NHS can’t possibly begin to deal with.”
Cat said Maggie’s was also a lifeline for parents who have cancer, providing them with a place where they can process the impact of their illness away from their children.
She added: “When you have got kids you have to really put a brave face on it.
“Without being unrealistic you have to be upbeat and positive and say it’s going to be fine.
“There isn’t any space for you to just say, ‘Oh my goodness, this is huge’ and process it.
“Maggie’s provides this incredibly safe space to help you do that. There isn’t really anybody else who does what they do – they are absolutely essential.”
With your help, the News wants to raise at least £750,000 toward the Maggie’s Edinburgh centre’s £1.2 million extension.
The revamp would allow an additional 5000 people a year to access the centre, designed to fill the gap between hospital care and patients’ emotional and practical needs.
And it’s not just patients who are helped by the charity, with support also available for family members, or anyone else helping a loved one through their treatment.
This was certainly true for Cat’s husband Iain, who also paid tribute to the Maggie’s team.
He was able to speak to counsellors after Cat’s shock diagnosis, which Iain said had felt like having “all the air sucked out of the room”.
“It’s a bit like walking in the woods with your wife and then watching them being attacked by a wild animal,” he said.
“You feel absolutely powerless to help. You can support but there’s nothing you can do to stop the wild animal and help them.”
And although Cat has finished her treatment, Iain said he was confident the pair would always be able to lean on Maggie’s for support if needed.
He added: “They are there for you for whatever you need, whenever you need them.
“It doesn’t stop when you finish your treatment – you are welcome for life.”
It may still be early days, donations are already coming in thick and fast for the Buy A Brick campaign.
Pledges can be as small as £1 but there is no limit to how much you can give to help make the new centre a reality.
Cat added: “Even if you’ve only got £1 to spare it makes a real difference – everything helps, every single donation.
“If everyone just donated just £2 or £3 to Maggie’s just think how much we’d raise. It would be phenomenal.”
Next year Iain will be taking on the Paras10 challenge to bring in more cash for Maggie’s.
To find out more, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/iainpaul-paras10challenge.